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Culinary Detective: Sun, Sand, Sea and Sausages!

It is always a pleasure to receive a call from The Nai Harn inviting me to experience their latest culinary offering, however, I must admit, I am more used to heading there for a late lunch or an early evening bite at one of their multitude of world-class restaurants. So, when my phone rang and Executive Chef, Mark Jones, invited me for breakfast, I was somewhat surprised, and to meet at Rock Salt at 8am in the morning, positively intrigued.

By Chris Watson

Saturday 29 February 2020, 04:00PM

Steak and egg Photo: Rock Salt

Steak and egg Photo: Rock Salt

Whilst starting the day at The Nai Harn’s all-day dining restaurant, Cosmo is definitely an experience, showcasing premium products in a vast array of delectable dishes with Mark’s trademark attention to detail, Rock Salt, isn’t even open, or is it?

I am not the first to arrive at this renowned semi-open-air beachside restaurant, with several casual tables strategically placed at the entrance, occupied by what appears to be a combination of both local Phuket residents and holidaymakers. I notice they are also enjoying lattes, pastries and tall glasses of vibrant fresh orange juice.

As Mark approaches, I do recall hearing that Rock Salt was offering morning coffees and pastries, but this is hardly front-page news. For those who have not had the pleasure of meeting Mark, immaculately dressed in his whites and continually scanning diners, plates and both kitchen and service staff, he can initially appear somewhat formidable, his standards extremely high and his level of tolerance for errors, particularly low.

We embrace as old friends and he leads me into the restaurant proper, where a table has already been set for three. Service staff, always charming and efficient bring me my usual latte and Mark joins me brandishing an elegant menu. Pleasantries out of the way, he excitedly tells me the reason for my invitation.

“It was always part of the grand plan, to offer a selection of signature breakfast dishes at Rock Salt to appeal to both our island residents and visiting tourists, not staying at The Nai Harn who wish to indulge in a keenly priced premium ingredient-focused breakfast. Whilst we began by offering continental style coffees and pastries, we are now launching a more comprehensive service.”

Indeed prices appear to be incredibly good value with the ‘Full Monty’ Rock Salt breakfast, priced at B325 and Eggs Benedict at B295. I also notice that in line with all restaurants at The Nai Harn, prices are shown net, with no added taxes or service charge; the price you see is the price you pay!

Also, knowing Mark’s meticulous care, I am confident all dishes will feature only the very best products available. Our additional diner this morning is the ever-present General Manager, Frank Grassmann who arrives with impeccable timing, just as we order.

Somewhat un-European, we order several dishes to share and Mark briefly exits to supervise their preparation. Whilst waiting, I notice that Nai Harn beach is even at this early hour, surprisingly busy when I wrongly perceived the general populous would still be recovering from their late-night clubbing the previous evening; Frank gives me his take.

“Nai Harn beach has always been popular with visitors and residents alike who head there first thing in the morning to grab a sought-after spot from which they may enjoy the day. It was this that many months ago sparked the idea to eventually offer a quality signature breakfast to engage both our local community and guests from other hotels who may not have the capacity or desire for a super extensive traditional buffet breakfast, or equally important, the budget.”

Mark returns accompanied by a friendly waitress who presents us with, chia seed and bananas, steak and egg and egg benedict; thank goodness, I have no lunch engagement. Mark describes the healthy option as chilled chia seed and coconut milk porridge with bananas, candied pecans, crumbled baked cashew nuts and topped with a drizzle of Chiang Mai blossom honey.

I begin with the steak and egg; a deliciously tender pork gammon steak, home-cured with demerara sugar for four to five weeks and air-dried for up to five days, finished off in the wood-fired oven, lightly charred and served with slightly crisp yet melt in the mouth rosti fritter, fried egg and squeaky spinach. Frank chooses the eggs benedict, perfectly poached according to Mark’s secret technique, incidentally which I aim to elicit from him at some future juncture, with a twist on the predictable ham of slivers of prosciutto adding lightness and a welcome hint of saltiness, then finished with a velvety hollandaise.

There are several other options available, all including painstakingly sourced ingredients, home-made northern Thailand Kurobuta pork sausages, fresh smoked Scottish salmon, daily in-house baked bread and croissants, fruit danish and pain au raisin, of course, all made with French butter.

The menu is continually evolving with home-cured bacon, a work in progress and for dog walkers, a sure to be welcomed, soon to be launched initiative of dishes that will cater for both equally valued parties!

Finishing off my second latte, there are few other settings on the island where one can enjoy such idyllic views and a value for money, high-quality breakfast experience; in fact, I can’t think of any. If you can, please email me.
Rock Salt is open for Breakfast from 7:30am to 10:00am daily.

Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.

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